How much of your home search should you do online?

You can do much of your home search online, but how much is too much?
You can do much of your home search online, but how much is too much?
© Dean

Between work, family and our social lives, just thinking about buying a new house can be overwhelming. There's so much to consider -- finding a home that's welcoming and affordable, picking a neighborhood with good schools and shopping -- and then there's the actual challenge of buying the house and making a move! But nowadays, the Internet makes the process a bit easier. We no longer have to call up a real estate agent, wait for a list of prospective houses and check them out in person to begin the home-buying process. Now we can start online.



There are several real estate sites like Zillow and Trulia that can help you kick off your search for that perfect home -- from bed on your laptop, from a waiting room with your smart phone or from your cubicle at work (during your lunch break, of course). Most houses on the market are listed with all the basic info like square footage and bedrooms/bathrooms, but the process only begins with the houses that catch your eye.

Google Maps is an excellent tool to plan out a touring schedule of all your prospective future homes. In fact, it even includes a real estate feature that marks the map with homes for sale. You can always use "My Maps" to save a list of homes for later, or use Google Maps from a smart phone to get real-time directions from house to house. And while you're using Google Maps, you can search for restaurants, grocery stores or schools to scope out what's nearby.

Of course, at some point it's time to take the next step and move your search from the digital world to the real one. As useful as the Internet is, eventually you do have to visit homes for sale in person.





When Should I Go In Person?

Let's face it: At some point, looking at pictures of a house online just isn't going to cut it. To make your final decision, you have to make the trip and check out every room for yourself. But compiling your own list of potential homes means you don't have to communicate with a real estate agent until you want to. If you pick out homes that happen to be holding open houses, you may not even need an agent at all to check them out. And once you contact an agent or use a Web site like Redfin that will help you get in touch with one, coming prepared with a list of prospective houses will make the process easier.

As helpful as the pictures of each house posted online will no doubt be, taking your own photographs is a smart idea, and one you can't do from home. If you visit a dozen houses, they may end up blurring together. Take a few pictures at each one to remember which house has the luxurious kitchen, which has a wonderful backyard and which master bedroom faces straight into the glaring sunrise. Those factors bring us to our last element of online home shopping: the stuff that you simply can't do online.


You Just Have to Be There

At some point, you simply have to get out and see prospective homes in person.
At some point, you simply have to get out and see prospective homes in person.
  © Debenport

Photographs posted online may depict a home in a pleasant light, but experiencing the house for yourself is an entirely different matter. What's the view like from inside? Does the window placement guarantee a 7 a.m. wakeup with the sunrise, or does the master bedroom face west and guarantee a nice view of the sunset? Can you even see the sun, or are neighboring houses or trees blocking out everything?

Finally, you just can't get the feel for a house or neighborhood from your computer. Homes have character, just like people, and judging the neighborhood is important, too. Looking for schools and shops online is a great start, but there's no way to tell if you'll feel safe and comfortable until you visit for yourself. Shop online, test in person and know that you're making the most informed choice possible to find the best house for you.


Lots More Information

Related HSW Articles

More Great Links

  • "Top Sites By Category: Business/Real Estate." (Nov. 6, 2010).
  • Boero, Brian. "15 real estate related iPhone apps you need to check out." July 29, 2009. (Nov. 3 2010).
  • "Google Milestones." (Nov. 10, 2010).
  • "15 Best Real Estate iPhone Applications." (Nov. 3, 2010).
  • Jeacle, Karl. "Karl Jeacle's Mortgage Calculator." (Nov. 10, 2010).
  • "Why Redfin Is Way Better." (Nov. 7, 2010).
  • "Innovation." (Nov. 7, 2010).
  • "Mobile for Consumers." (Nov. 7, 2010).
  • "Trulia Voices Real Estate Blogs." (Nov. 7, 2010).
  • "What Zillow Offers." (Nov. 6, 2010).
  • "HomeScan: ZipRealty's powerful new iPhone app feature." (Nov. 7, 2010).